Mills Murder Mystery: Part 2

The murder of Edward Mills in 1927 was the subject of Mills Murder Mystery: Part 1 in the Nov. 16 edition of The Town Courier.

Montgomery County Chief of Police Alvie A. Moxley arrived at the farm and took charge of the investigation—or so he thought. During the next few days chaos reigned at Hunting Hill. The Montgomery County Police Department was barely 5 years old and had no detectives, so they sent for a Baltimore detective who arrived to investigate. Stanley Gingell, a Montgomery County deputy sheriff, was hired by the Mills family to investigate the crime. And incredibly, the pastor of the Travilah Baptist Church announced that he would be conducting his own investigation into the murder of Mills. The bickering factions did not speak to each other while the independent inquiries were conducted.

More than 500 people attended Mills’ funeral. The pastor, turned investigator, delivered a fiery sermon and declared that he would study everyone’s face for signs of guilt. The deputy sheriff attended the funeral, under the guise of a mourner, to look for any suspicious persons in the church. In the meantime, the police department interviewed everyone within 5 miles of the Mills’ farm. They took 10 people into custody, and as was the custom of the time, and brought them to the courthouse for questioning. Most of these people were family and friends.

Police Officer Clagett found that a relative of Mills owned a pistol. Clagett produced a bag of flour and in front of a crowd that gathered in front of the courthouse, Clagett fired the gun into the sack of flour and announced “to his naked eye” that the gun was not the same as the one used to kill Mills.

Even the bailiff of the Rockville court became a suspect. This man, who happened to own a pistol, also was a part-time  employee of the Toll House road house and dance hall in Silver Spring. When he was brought to the courthouse for  questioning, a large crowd gathered to watch the spectacle. While he was being questioned, an unlucky man, wearing a black shirt with white buttons, walked down the street in front of the courthouse. The police rushed out front and arrested him. It turned out that he was in town to distribute handbills and he was released.

During August, Mrs. Bertha Mills, the widow of the slain man, told a friend that her husband had appeared to her in a dream. He had stood by her bedside and said, “I was killed by ___ _____ _____ of Washington.” Unfortunately, Mrs. Mills could not recall the name. This set off a flurry of excitement and more suspects were questioned.

Things seemed to have cooled for awhile until March 1928. On the night of March 9, Wilson Trout, a farmer living in the Glen section of Potomac, went outside to lock his gates. He was confronted by a man named Samuel Robertson, a house painter and contractor from Bethesda, who was armed with a pistol. Robertson demanded the repayment of a debt and pistol-whipped Trout. A shot was fired during the altercation.

The next day the police went to Robertson’s house in Bethesda. Robertson turned over a pistol and it was sent away for  testing. The police knew that Robertson’s parents owned a farm near the Mills property and that Robertson had lived there in  the early 1920s. Experts said the pistol was very similar to the kind that had killed Mills. The police returned to Robertson’s house and arrested him. While they were there, they found an Underwood typewriter. Robertson was whisked away to Baltimore for questioning to avoid the press and crowds that would have formed at Rockville. Robertson, who admitted that he knew Mills, denied guilt. He was married, the father of three, and was a church-going man with a violent temper. Once he had been invited to small gathering at a home near the Mills farm. When the living room furniture was cleared for dancing, Robertson became furious and hurled a lamp through a window.

Robertson was indicted for the murder of Edward Mills by the grand jury in Rockville, but his trial was moved to Frederick because the publicity surrounding the case could have tainted the jury. The state presented two witnesses who said that Robertson owned a black shirt with white buttons. A police officer testified that he saw Robertson hanging around the Mills farm on the afternoon of the murder. Mrs. Robertson denied that she knew Mills or had been involved in an affair with him. Some experts testified that Robertson’s gun was very similar to that which killed Mills, while others testified otherwise. Other experts said that the typewriter was the same kind that was used to type the mystery note. Jurors were allowed to use the typewriter and then compare their typing with the note. The prosecution was dealt a severe blow when the owner of a typewriter store in Washington, D.C., testified that he sold a typewriter to Robertson two days after the murder. Finally, the jury retired and within two hours returned a verdict of not guilty.

The Mills farm is long gone, having been replaced by a sprawling subdivision. The farmhouse where the body of Edward Mills was carried after his death remains on Dufief Mill Road and is nearly hidden by larger houses that threaten to swallow this little piece of Montgomery County history. Ironically, Robertson hired Raymond Mills later in life to make and install cabinets in homes that Robertson built. Mills said that the murder of his uncle was never discussed. Samuel Robertson apparently never again had any serious legal troubles and died in Florida in 1969.

Did Samuel Robertson kill Edward Mills? We will probably never know for sure and Raymond Mills, when asked for his opinion, said that he had his suspicions but would rather not discuss the matter.

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